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January 15th, 2009
10:43 AM ET

How can cardiac calcification be treated?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Collin, Oak Park, Illinois

"I'm in my 40s and was told I have cardiac calcification. I'm curious about treatments for it and read that chelation therapy might work. Does that work?"

Answer:

Thanks, Collin, for writing in. Cardiac calcification is fairly common sign of early artery disease. It shows up on X-rays or CT scans in people of all ages. If developed during middle-age years, family history probably plays a role. I get tested regularly for heart disease and calcium buildup because I, myself, have a family history of the disease. There are often no symptoms of distress or pain so its important to keep up with annual exams.

Let me back up and explain exactly what cardiac calcification is. During the beginning stages of artery disease, the lining of aortic wall becomes inflamed, then plaque starts to build up and over time, calcium deposits begin to form in the artery wall. Those deposits are the calcification.

It's not reversible, but you can control the inflammation and prevent the calcium from progressing by controlling your risk factors. I ran this question by the American Heart Association, which confirmed that if you don't smoke, keep your weight down and your blood pressure/cholesterol at a normal range, you can prevent future damage.

Sounds like a simple solution, right? Well thats because it is simple. Many people search the Web for a magic drug, or a quick fix treatment when the solution is often as easy as working out, eating healthily.

Consuming healthy food will keep your numbers at a healthy range and your weight down. Limit or avoid transfat and saturated fats found in fried foods, cookies, eggs, palm oil. Look for sources of good fats in fish, flaxseed and olive oil. They'll help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your overall risk of heart disease.

You mention chelation therapy as a treatment option. Chelation therapy is typically used for treating mercury poisoning. Some people report using it to treat heart disease but there is no evidence that it works. In fact, the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health do not recommend chelation therapy for heart patients, noting lack of evidence and also unpleasant side effects. The side effects include vomiting, headache, inability to create new blood cells and even kidney damage. The best treatment option is monitoring your vitals signs.

Collin, it's a positive thing that you've discovered these calcifications at a young age. Now, be empowered to take the steps necessary to stop the progression of the disease and you'll go on to live a long, healthy life. Best of luck!


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.